Long On Words, Short on Time

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pro-Publica managing editor Steve Engelberg and Frontline’s Raney Aronson discuss how to do long-form storytelling in a short attention span world. They’ll debate whether or not the Internet really has shortened readers’ attention spans, how new technologies could contribute to a revitalization of the form, and the all-important question of who will actually pay for these longer, more labor-intensive pieces.


Raney Aronson and Steve Engelberg

Comments [10]


Sorry - one other thing on Frontline. The words "civil disobedience" came to mind when I watched it and realized what kind of boundaries it was preserving / breaking.

Mar. 14 2011 01:30 PM

Frontline's amazing. My favorites were the one on the Iraq War where Paul Bremer said he tried to catch up on Middle East politics & current events in two weeks, the one on the 2010 election that showed Obama as a centrist when he was in charge of the Harvard Law School Journal (and actually John McCain came out looking not so bad for refusing to exploit his military career), and another on of all things chicken sh**. With Frank Perdue's son looking not as wholesome as the commercials would like to make out.

Mar. 14 2011 01:28 PM
bob from brooklyn

i am young-ish, LOVE frontline, it is one of the few programs i watch on real television, not online. everyone loves frontline, it's the best, thanks for making it.

Mar. 14 2011 12:35 PM
Robert Plautz from New York, N.Y.

I was going to comment and ask a question to Ms. Aronson on another subject but then I read comment No. 2 by Hugh Sansom. What is this guy talking about? In my opinion, Frontline has done an excellent job over the years on the very topics and issues that Mr. Sansom refers to. We are obviously watching two different programs and I am interested in reading the comments from other listeners about Mr. Sanson's comment.

Now, for what I was intending to comment on, I believe it would be very useful and important for Frontline when showing an interview to superimpose on some small place on the screen the date of the interview. Frequently, they have interviews of people that conflict and it would be interesting to know who said what, when. It would also be useful to know when the interviewee said the statement in relation to how soon when the facts occurred.

I believe that Frontline is one of the best things on TV.

Mar. 14 2011 12:35 PM
Ink-stained wretch

[[tom from astoria
Is there a standard handbook of rules for journalists?]]

No. But there are institutions that teach high standards and good ethics...the Poynter Institute is probably at the forefront of those institutions.

Mar. 14 2011 12:30 PM
tom from astoria

Is there a standard handbook of rules for journalists?

Mar. 14 2011 12:27 PM
Ink-stained wretch

I'm a journalist and I can tell you that the people who run my newspaper can't make up their mind between "lite" journalism and long form reporting. They are constantly telling reporters to get information in fast and that even one sentence can be put up on the web as a "story."

Meanwhile, of course, it's long form and investigative journalism that wins awards and impacts people's lives.

Now, to tell the truth, we've had many projects that were so long and so overworked by editors' hands -
Pulitzer bait is the phrase that gets used - that no one read them...not even other journalists.

In a nutshell, I can tell you that I and my colleagues feel that the current emphasis on very short and very fast is doing damage to the paper. If you only reward speed and not insight, people will stop seeing trends and will stop looking deeper into stories.

Mar. 14 2011 12:26 PM
tom from astoria

Is there a standard handbook of rules for journalists?

Mar. 14 2011 12:24 PM

The whole short attention span has been around since the 60s when I studied TV/R/Adv.

It's all an excuse to squeeze more commercials & commercial time into the broadcast day.

The "public" may have a short attention span in studies, but if you're telling a gripping story well the attention span simply adapts to accept the longer form of the novel, documentary and film or longer form print journalism.

The whole push for the short attention span studies comes from those who wish to guarantee the dumbing down of the electorate & the marketplace.

Mar. 14 2011 12:19 PM

It's more than a little comical for Raney Aronson to critique long-form work given short attention spans when Frontline has done such an abysmal job in recent years on healthcare, the financial crisis, and several awful pieces on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In recent years, Frontline has sounded more like a simple front for the uninspired mainstream at best, the neocons and neolibs at worst. Their work on Iraq was so bad as to be part of the problem.

Mar. 14 2011 12:16 PM

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